Recently in a landmark case, the Singapore court issued the first ever Exclusion Order to ban a malicious noisy neighbour from returning to his own HDB flat in Bukit Panjang, after constantly and deliberately playing loud music to disturb a neighbour and breaching an earlier court order.
The Exclusion Order was issued by the Community Dispute Resolution Tribunal (CDRT) and was directed not just at the owner, but also all occupants within the house, which in this case included the owner’s two grown children.
What’s shocking to some is that the dispute began more than two years ago in November 2017. While there is a process of escalation, many will no doubt think that this is too slow to endure a noisy neighbour, especially one as malicious as this Bukit Panjang troublemaker.
First Things First: Should You Lodge a Complaint to HDB?
You can try reaching out to HDB, but you probably won't see much success.
There is an HDB feedback form on their site, but that's more for sharing how you feel about HDB's services, not your neighbours. HDB is a housing developer and hence, neighbourly disputes are not within their purview.
That's why even though these affected homeowners in Punggol looked to HDB, their resident's committee and even their MPs for help, they eventually moved out of their homes.
So if you can't lodge an HDB complaint, what should you do? Can you call the police for noise-related 'offences'?
How Do You Deal With Noisy Neighbours in Singapore
There are several ways to deal with a noisy neighbour in your HDB flat, namely:
Solution to noisy neighbours
How useful we think it is
Call the police
Contact your grassroot leaders (GRLs)
Apply for mediation
Take the dispute to court (Community Disputes Resolution Tribunal, or CDRT)
However, success may vary depending on the nature of the disturbance and, ahem, the offender’s psychological condition. For instance, a party of rowdy teenagers or tenants can be easily stopped, but dealing with a vengeful and/or deranged neighbour is like… well, we don’t even want to imagine that.
Regardless, here’s what you can do if you want to stop a noisy neighbour if talking to him/her doesn’t resolve the issue:
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Noisy Neighbour Solution #1: Call the Police
Usefulness Rating: 4/5
Most HDB owners’ reflex would be to give the Police a ring, and this is what the victim in the Bukit Panjang case initially did.
Upon calling 999 and providing them with information such as the source of the disturbance, Police will usually show up rather promptly, within 10 to 20 minutes depending on the location of your home. The Police will ask for your name, your unit number and contact details on the call, but what they will do when they arrive is to find the perpetrator and seek to resolve the issue. So, the complainant typically does not need to reveal his/her identity face-to-face.
In certain cases, you may need to make a Police report. The Police might advise you to file a Magistrate’s Complaint, which can be done online, if the neighbours act is considered to be acting against the law (e.g. causing harassment, alarm, or distress).
Pros: In Singapore, most people wouldn’t risk the wrath of the Police. Hence, calling the Police usually solves the loud neighbour problem. The key thing to note here is not to alert the offending neighbour by threatening to call the Police so that the Police will be able to catch the perpetrator in the act, which will provide evidence in your favour should escalation be necessary.
Cons: Firstly, neighbourly disturbance is a non-arrestable offence, which means no arrests will be made and you’ll need to file a Magistrate’s Complaint should you wish to press charges (please read the rest of the article for other possible remedies first). A drawback of calling the Police is also provoking even more hostility if the offending neighbour is deranged, but this should not stop you from dialling 999.
Noisy Neighbour Solution #2: Contact Your Grassroots Leaders (GRLs)
Usefulness Rating: 2/5
Typically, every block of flats has a grassroots leader assigned to assist residents when situations like this arise. The GRLs will act as a mediator between the complainant and the alleged perpetrator.
Pros: If the noise pollution is a recurring issue, it is worth approaching a GRL for help. A grassroots leader can act as a neutral third-party to facilitate informal mediation between the both of you, making it easier to reach a solution with a neighbour you may no longer be on talking terms with.
Cons: Even though GRLs are typically kind and helpful, they have no legal powers. So, a GRL may not have the influence necessary to improve the situation. Most likely, the offending neighbour would only stop if asked by a GRL if he/she is unaware of causing the disturbance or is willing and able to accommodate the request.
Noisy Neighbour Solution #3: Apply for Mediation
Usefulness Rating: 3.5/5
Conducted by the Community Mediation Centre (CMC), mediation is commonly the next step in resolving the issue. Mediation involves a trained neutral third-party called a mediator, who will facilitate a conversation between you and the noisy neighbour.
Here’s how it works: During mediation, you and your neighbour each get the chance to tell the story of what happened. This can be done either with both of you in the same room, or separately in private sessions. The mediator will guide both parties towards a solution that will be acceptable to both.
Once a mutually acceptable solution has been decided upon, both parties will sign a written agreement agreeing to abide by the solution.
Pros: Mediation is cheap. There is only a one-time $5 administrative fee, regardless of the number of mediation sessions. The fee will be paid for by the applicant (i.e. you), whereas the respondent (i.e. the noisy neighbour) does not need to pay.
Cons: The signed agreement is not legally binding. The noisy neighbour may choose to ignore the signed agreement and go back to his/her old ways. He/she could even choose not to attend the mediation at all. These actions of non-compliance, however, may be used as evidences against them if the case escalates.
How to Register for Mediation at the CMC:
Via enquiry line: You may call CMC’s enquiry line at 1800-CALL-LAW (1800-2255-529) during Monday to Friday (excluding public holidays), 8.30am to 5.00pm.
Online via SingPass: You can also register using your SingPass account.
Referral by agency (such as by the Police): The police can make a mediation referral to the CMC.
Noisy Neighbour Solution #4: Take the Matter to Court
Usefulness Rating: 4.5/5
HDB and the authorities emphasise that taking the matter to court should be a last resort, but sometimes this could be the only way to force a noisy neighbour to quieten down if mediation has failed to yield a solution. (The judge may order that the parties undergo mediation first before hearing the case.)
Disputes between neighbours that are brought to court takes place at the Community Disputes Resolution Tribunal (CDRT), a specialised court that only hears claims that involves an “interference with enjoyment or use of place of residence” by a “neighbour”. It is the CDRT that issued the Exclusion Order for the malicious noisy neighbour in the Bukit Panjang Case.
What this also means is that not all cases entitle you to escalate the case to the CDRT. The guidelines below, from Singaporelegaladvice.com, can help you determine if your case can be brought to the CDRT:
Who Is Considered My “Neighbour”?
Individuals in places of residence only (no businesses or workplaces);
Lives in the same building as you OR lives within a 100-metre radius of your home; and
Not living in the same place of residence as you
What Are Some Examples of “Interference”?
Causing excessive noise, smell, smoke, light or vibration
Littering at or in the vicinity of your home
Obstructing your home
Interfering with your movable property
Conducting surveillance on you or your home (such as installing CCTV cameras), where the surveillance is done at or in the vicinity of your home
Trespassing on your home
Allowing their pet to trespass on your home, to cause excessive noise or smell, or to defecate or urinate at or in the vicinity of your home
How to File a Claim at the CDRT
If your complaint against your neighbour does not fall within the above, you may file a Magistrate’s Complaint instead, after having made a police report.
Claims to the CDRT must be made online via the Community Justice and Tribunals System (CJTS). You’ll need to prepare supporting documents such as police reports, mediation agreements and media (e.g. photos and videos) supporting your claim.
Pros: The courts judgment is legally binding. If the noisy neighbour flouts it, he/she might be held in breach of a court order (if one is issued) and be charged in the criminal court for the offence.
Cons: Going to the CDRT is much more expensive than mediation, although it is still cheaper than hiring a lawyer to sue your neighbour. Here are some examples of the fees as cited by the State Courts of Singapore, correct as of time of this article’s writing:
Steps to file a claim at CDRT
Fee in SGD
Filing the claim at the CDRT
Filing the notice of appeal to the High Court
See here for a full list of fees.
In addition, the loud neighbour may also choose to appeal the CDRT’s judgment, prolonging your torture and anguish and taking more cash out of your wallet (at least before the court orders the neighbour to pay your fees).
The gist here is that, if you’re filing a legal claim as a last resort, you’ll need patience for due process (e.g. admin work and investigation) and some spare change.
What Is the Best Way to Make a Complaint Against a Noisy Neighbour in My HDB Flat?
It might sound frustrating, but the best way to make a successful complaint against your noisy HDB neighbour is still to follow a step-by-step process that first involves talking it out with your neighbour, before seeking intervention such as mediation to resolve the issue. Alternatively, you may also submit any HDB feedback via HDB's e-services.
One thing’s for sure, in a densely populated urban jungle like Singapore, everyone should be considerate with regard to their neighbours and keep noise levels down between 10:30pm and 7:00am daily!
What Can I Do If My Neighbour is Noisy?
While you can make a complaint to HDB, you probably won't get much success. Remember that HDB is a housing developer and hence, neighbourly disputes are not within their purview. You can, however, call the police, apply for mediation or take the dispute to Court.
Can I Call the Police for Noise Complaints?
Yes, you may. The police will seek to resolve the issue with your neighbour. However, note that neighbourly disturbance is a non-arrestable offence, which means no arrests will be made and you’ll need to file a Magistrate’s Complaint should you wish to press charges.
Are there "Quiet Hours"?
While neighbourly disturbance is a non-arrestable offence, the quiet hours are generally between 10.30pm and 7am.
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